The explosion came without warning, filling the screen with smoke. The boy shuddered and involuntarily ducked behind the cinema seat in front of him, startling his companion. Feeling her stare, he closed his eyes and tried to breathe deeply, but the imagines came like rapid pistol fire: a crack the blood-splattered sidewalk, the burly face of the Spectran guard, the steel-grey muzzle of his gun.
He bolted from his seat, fumbling through the dark for the aisle. He could hear her footsteps behind him now, but it didn't matter. He couldn't stop himself. He had to get out, away from the blood, away from the stagnant air, away from the memories.
Once in the parking lot, he leaned against the outer wall of the theatre, crossed his arms protectively, and tried to calm himself. The blinking marquee cast streaks of light across his face, turning his hair blood-red and forcing his memory back into the ambulance with its blinding strobe lights. He heard the piercing wail of the siren and the rapid-fire voices of the emergency medical team, gently telling him that despite their efforts, the victims didn't survive the attack.
The memory cracked his remaining composure. He slid down the wall into a crouch, shaking, wrapping his knotted arms around his knees in a vain attempt to quell the tremors. He heard the anguished cries of a wounded animal. Vaguely, he realized that the sounds were coming from his own mouth.
Suddenly, he felt her long hair cross his skin as she knelt down to embrace him. He startled, but she stroked his trembling arms, murmuring, "It's all right now. It's okay. You're all right. It's over." She repeated the message like a mantra, rocking him back and forth in the corner of the parking lot, protecting him from the cold of the city streets.
He held his jaw rigid until the keening stopped, but despite his efforts, hot tears stung his eyes. He cried silently, the depths of his anguish seeming endless. Exposed beneath the pool of the streetlight, her warm embrace was the only thing that kept him from flying away into the night.
Finally, he lifted his eyes and gave her a weak smile.
"Thanks, Princess," he said simply.
She gave him a tender smile in return. "Any time, Keyop."
Then she pulled him to his feet and threw an arm across his shoulders. Slowly, they walked away from the theatre and into the maze of city streets, just another couple of kids, just another night on the town.